Brazil's long night of the soul

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Brazilians have chosen a proto-fascist demagogue, Jair Bolsonaro, as their new president. The result in the second round of the election last Sunday was not unforeseen. In the first round, on 7 October, Bolsonaro was within four points of a straight victory. On Sunday he obtained 55.5 per cent backing versus 44.5 per cent for his Workers' Party rival, Fernando Haddad.

Brazilian Presidential Candidate Jair Bolsonaro votes in the country's election (Ricardo Moraes-Pool/Getty Images)Bolsonaro represents the Social Liberal Party that obtained, in the first round, the largest congressional representation in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. He also comes to power with a clear majority around Brazil's Gubernatorial and Legislative Assemblies.

Bolsonaro's law-and-order rhetoric, regrettably, found the minds of the majority of Brazilians. Street crime is rising and seven Brazilian cities feature in the world's 20 most violent. Bolsonaro, who is a former army captain and has spent 26 years as a legislator, has represented the de facto alliance between the country's traditionally undemocratic political right, the economic elite, the military and the fundamentalist evangelical churches.

Brazilian analysts have predicted the country is heading to four years — the presidential term length — of repression of the social movement and an assault on workers' rights. It will also see a direct military influence in the government. Bolsonaro is an admirer of the brutal 1964 -1985 military dictatorship. The Uruguayan former president and a moral figure in the region, Jose Mujica, said: 'Bolsonaro is a danger to Brazil and the region.'

Prominent Catholic priest Frei Betto — who suffered the military dictatorship first hand — said the election of Bolsonaro would represent the 'return of the military' and the 'criminalisation of social movements, repression of art and culture, militarisation of schools and a green light for [right wing] militias'.

Bolsonaro's victory is the result of a fragile democracy that was unwilling and unable to punish those responsible for the crimes committed by the dictatorship. Wrapped in impunity, the Brazilian military has been patiently waiting in the shadows to once again take control of the Palácio do Planalto, the magnificent government house designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

The election of Bolsonaro is the nauseating product of Brazil's disenchantment with democracy and popular hatred against a political system corrupted to its core. It is corruption — a malaise that infiltrates just about every slice of Brazilian society — that has pushed the country to what Vladimir Safatle, a Brazilian philosopher, has described as 'night without end'.

 

"On Sunday — mark my words — Brazil sank into darkness."

 

Those most disenchanted are the largest majority of Brazilians, young people. In a country of more than 190 million, 62 per cent are aged 29 or under. Regrettably, driven by sheer desperation by the lack of economic opportunities, young Brazilians became the cannon fodder of Bolsonaro.

He also found support among the middle class whose standard of living has deteriorated. Prominent Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff spoke before the second round of a 'frightened middle class contaminated' by the rhetoric of Bolsonaro and the 'influence of a commercial media that have never gotten along with democracy'.

In a country submerged in a bottomless and lengthy economic recession, large sections of the middle class have joined the 27 million people who are either unemployed or are no longer looking for a job. Those who supported Bolsonaro are those who perceived that the centre is incapable of transformation, so they move to extremes.

His election is also the product of the increasing influence of Brazil's reactionary evangelical churches. In just a decade evangelicals have risen from 26 million to 46 million and Catholics have gone from 90 million to 70 million. According to the Spanish newspaper El País, Bolsonaro had the support of 36 per cent of evangelicals.

Bolsonaro has promised to block the legalisation of abortion, gay marriage and drugs. He also promised to re-install the traditional family structure — a male-dominated one. Bolsonaro is Catholic, but he cemented a strong evangelical patronage through a messianic discourse against LGBT citizens, feminists and left-wing activists (a footnote: Bolsonaro's second name is Messias).

The election of Bolsonaro is significant. Brazil is the fifth most populous country on the planet and the largest economy in Latin America. Bolsonaro, described by The Economist as 'a menace to Brazil and to Latin America', will demolish the progressive redistributive policies the Workers' Party achieved while in government.

The main economic adviser of Bolsonaro is Paulo Guedes, a fundamentalist neoliberal economist trained in Milton Friedman's Chicago School. Guedes, who is an admirer of Chile's neoliberal economic system implemented by former military dictator Augusto Pinochet, has said Bolsonaro represented the middle class that has been assaulted and abandoned by the left. Its program is to privatise all Brazilian state companies and, as he said, 'simplify taxes' and reduce the state apparatus.

Bolsonaro is the manifestation of a terminal crisis of Brazil's post-dictatorship political order — its institutions, the executive power, the judiciary, and the legislature. He will establish a national security state to the service of the interests of big capital and the military. On Sunday — mark my words — Brazil sank into darkness.

 

 

Antonio CastilloAntonio Castillo is a Latin American journalist and Director of the Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture, CPC, RMIT University, Melbourne-Australia.

 

Main image: Brazilian Presidential Candidate Jair Bolsonaro votes in the country's election (Ricardo Moraes-Pool/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Antonio Castillo, Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro

 

 

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Existing comments

Sadly I am not at all surprised by this result.It mirrors that of the Philippines, some central and eastern European countries like Poland and no doubt will be reflected in many 'developing' nations as ordinary people despair with the failure of so called democracy to solve their problems. Trump is a very poor advertisement for American style democracy. Even our Westminster style parliamentary system is proving a poor example to the rest of the world. Sadly the future of the concept of 'freedom and justice ' as understood in western democracies, is proving quite illusionary to many people
Gavin O'Brien | 31 October 2018


For the last six years I've immersed myself in Portuguese; led to it by the incomparable combination of Brazilian music with its lyrics. The artistic harmonies, however, belie the dissonances in this huge and hugely endowed nation. I found this out through all the firends I have made. Anyone who believes in Providence has also to believe that there is a way through this headlong rush to oppression and dogmatic intolerance, finally to a better world. Óscar Romero, whose sainted memory lingered for decades before due recognition by the powers-that-be in Rome, surely did not live - and die - in vain. Neither did Hélder Câmara and all those who fought and sometimes perished, alone in agony, for human decency in the Americas. "Send not to know for whom the bell tolls". In this age we are all Brazilians. We are all called to give a damn (about Nauru, and much else beyond).
Fred Green | 31 October 2018


Brazil is not alone. Welcome to the rapidly accelerating decline of Christian Western Society which has led to the fascist extremists seeking to stamp out unfettered liberalism.
john frawley | 31 October 2018


I agree that the situation in Brazil is tragic; the centre could not hold because it became crudely corrupt and disgraced. The alternative chosen is appalling, but what else is there? There are certainly resonances of this in the Tump ascendency, albeit less crass, with the centre establishment politics disappearing, giving way to the mega rich people-sponsored Tea-Party fanatics on the Republican side, and cynical exploitation of disadvantaged minorities in wholesale "identity politics " on the Democrat side. There was also failure by the centrists to bring the Bankers to book for destroying US national wealth (but preserving their own!) in their 2008 financial debacle. In Australia too we have been unable to support a centrist party-political consensus around energy policy, tax reform, etc etc and at the same time our national institutions have almost all fallen away through moral or financial corruption, or both. Where do we go from here? Hold on tight!
Eugene | 31 October 2018


Interesting the condemnation of Bolsonaro and all he stands for by both The Economist and Jose Mujica who one would think stand at both ends of the normal political spectrum. Ominous. Latin America seems to go through this sort of catharsis with a reasonable degree of regularity. Sad really for ordinary people. Corruption, whether of the Left or Right, seems to be a major factor. The answer is, I think, structural and at a fairly practical economic and political level. Interesting what happened to Jose Mujica and what he did for Uruguay. Brazil is a far larger and more complex country but perhaps there are clues from Uruguay it could use.
Edward Fido | 31 October 2018


Every Brazilian I talk to that lives outside of Brazil supports Bosanaro. Brazilians in Australia, US and Japan are in excess of 80% support. They love their country but they are sick of the corruption. Brazil could not in good conscience replace the corruption of the leftist workers party with more corruption from the left. Fernando Haddad said he would free Lula from prison despite his convictions. Brazil is where it is for a reason and the workers party has itself and only itself to blame. If Bosanaro can free the country of violence and corruption, Brazil will be a better place.
Patrick | 31 October 2018


Thank you for this article, Antonio Castillo. It should be a reminder to us all of what happened in Chile in 1973. Back then many also argued that they needed to get rid of Dr Salvador Allende's government. Allende did much to improve the living standards, educational, social and health services for Chile's poor and its indigenous people. To achieve this, he nationalised Chile's copper which had been controlled by US interests that made massive profits at the cost of the Chilean people. The CIA backed the fascist General Augusto Pinochet who not only introduced Friedman economics, but also authorised the Chilean military to carry out mass murder and gross human tights abuses. It resulted in massive inflation, thousands dead, displaced or traumatised because they were victims of of torture and other human rights abuses. Hopefully, this will not happen in Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro, but his statements and actions give great cause for concern. The world will need to monitor events in Brazil closely and take appropriate action if the situation becomes a repeat of Chile in 1973.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 03 November 2018


JF, don't forget that the conquest of Latin America/West Indies was authorised by Papal decrees and treaties with Catholic (Spanish and Portugues) monarchs . They may have been different times - but we see obviously that times haven't changed as much as we'd like to think. Brazil was conquered by Old World Catholicism and it seems now that it's being re-conquered by New World Protestantism aligned with a neoliberalism that shuns human rights. It's not religious affiliation at issue here - but how religious convictions translate into policies that protect human dignity.
Aurelius | 05 November 2018


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